White House gardener Dale Haney marks 50 years tending the grounds


A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the “White House History Quarterly” as the Historical Quarterly. The article has been corrected.

Amid Washington’s constant churn — the endless West Wing drama of staff entrances and exits, new lawmakers in Congress every two years and the potential turnover in administrations every four — the pristine grounds contained within the White House’s fences are a mainstay.

Eighteen and a half acres. Five hundred trees. Five thousand shrubs. All immaculately maintained to serve as the background for historical events, nightly cable news hits and visitor selfies. And the green thumbs steering that horticultural enterprise belong to Dale Haney, the White House grounds superintendent who recently marked his 50th year working on the property.

“If you ever met him, he is a wonderful human being,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Thursday. “We want to thank him for his continued service and 50 years of contributions to the beauty and abundance of the White House gardens and grounds.”

Haney has since served 10 presidents and been up-close to pivotal moments in American history.

“You can’t work in the White House garden as long as I have without acquiring favorite special places and seasons, a repertoire of stories to tell, and some insider secrets,” Haney — who declined to be interviewed for this article — wrote in the forward to the 2016 book “A Garden for the President.”

Even among the long careers of many White House staffers, Haney’s tenure stands out, according to Marcia Anderson, the chief publishing officer at the White House Historical Association and the editor of the White House History Quarterly.

“A lot of the staff make the White House their life’s work,” Anderson said. “It’s not unusual for staff to make it to 20 or 30 years at the White House. I would say 40 years is a little more rare. But 50 years like Dale Haney is very unique.”

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Haney’s tenure at the White House began in 1972, when Richard M. Nixon held the presidency. He had recently completed his degree in horticulture from Sandhills College in Pinehurst, N.C., and was working at Georgetown’s Dumbarton Oaks.

“The people I was working with received a call from the White House to let them know they needed help in the garden and they asked me if I would be interested,” Haney told Anderson in an interview in a recent issue of the White House History Quarterly. After interviewing, Haney accepted a position as a gardener with the National Park Service.

“When I accepted the job I agreed to stay for two years,” Haney told the History Quarterly. “I expected to go back to school to continue to study horticulture. But time has gone by so fast that is really doesn’t feel like 50 years.”

Since 1972, has risen from gardener to foreman to chief horticulturalist. In 2008, Haney was named superintendent of the White House grounds. Any day in his current position might find Haney, for example, supervising the 8,000 tulips planted each spring around the White House fountains or helping select and install the White House Christmas tree.

“It’s really amazing when you really walk out there, it’s hard to believe that every president has walked these grounds,” Haney told C-SPAN in 2008. “George Washington never lived here, but every president has walked and left some mark on the grounds, so I really do have that sense as I walk around.”

Haney has prepared the grounds for hundreds of state visits from foreign leaders and dignitaries. Those visits included three visits from the pope — in 1979, 2008, 2015 — and three visits by Queen Elizabeth II in 1976, 1991 and 2007.

“By Monday morning, we’ll have mowed and South Lawn and edged it, mowed the North Lawn and edged it, and we have got a lot of plant material to bring into the house for the dinner to decorate the residence with,” Haney explained when C-SPAN caught up with him about the Queen’s 2007 visit. “It’s too bad because our dogwoods have just finished blooming and our apple trees have just finished. It’s too bad the queen couldn’t come a week earlier; there would have been so much more beauty to see here.”

Haney starts each day personally watering the plants in the Oval Office before setting out to manage the rest of the grounds, he told the History Quarterly. “I want to be sure the plants are watered and healthy before the president arrives at his desk,” he told the magazine.

As the head of the Park Service’s staff of more than a dozen at the White House, Haney directs a team of gardeners, maintenance workers and others in a year-round effort. In the spring, summer and fall, the lawns are mowed twice a week. It takes eight hours to mow the lawns each time, according to a 2003 Q&A with Haney. The flower beds are changed each season as well.

One duty Haney has also taken on has been walking the first family’s dogs, beginning with Nixon’s Irish setter, King Timahoe. Since then, Haney has spent time with all the presidential pups, from Spot, George H.W. Bush’s Springer Spaniel, to the Obamas’ Portuguese water dogs, Bo and Sunny.

“Now I am beginning to walk Commander, the Bidens’ German Shepard,” Haney told the History Quarterly.

When asked in 2003 about what he liked best about his work at the White House, Haney spoke about the variety involved.

“Everyday you never know what you are going to tackle or what you are requested to do,” he said. “That’s what makes it so interesting.”

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